Taking on a trail race is a great way to explore a new route. Many will offer spectacular scenery and challenging terrain to challenge you. If you’re in need of a little guidance as you prepare for your first trail race, read on. We’ve got you covered.
Choosing your first trail race
Trail running races come in all shapes and sizes from a 5k up to ultra marathon so they cater for all levels of ability. Some will be lapped courses while others are a point to point. The terrain you can expect will range too from easy, light trails up to more technical, some might be flat and involve following a channel whereas others will have a lot of elevation and require you to navigate using a map.
For your first trail race it’s probably best to keep things simple. Go for something with minimal navigation and less challenging terrain so you can concentrate on running well and enjoying the scenery.
Training for your trail race
train on the trails
It might sound obvious but to prepare for your first trail race, you’ll need to do some beginner’s trail running at least. Don’t just leave it until race day. Do some of your training on off-road routes that are challenging but not too grueling and gradually accustom your body to running off-road. If you live in a city this might mean running on the grassier parts of the park, it still counts and you’ll feel the difference.
run to feel
Running off-road will inevitably be slower because of the undulations and terrain. You also get less energy return from softer surfaces so while you joints might be happier, you speed will slow. Try to ignore the pace on your GPS and learn to ‘run to feel’.
practice running hills
Most trail races will be hilly or undulating, so make friends with hills by including them in your training. Learning to work strongly and consistently uphill but then letting go on the downhill – leaning forwards and landing on the front half of the foot – is a good strategy.
Try these 3 hill training sessions to make you stronger.
Get strong for the trails
Multi-terrain running will often throw you off balance, so it’s vital to have a strong core that will allow you to quickly adjust your center of gravity and stabilize you. To help with this, lower limb strengthening, core work and stabilization exercises are essential so work some good strength training for trail runners into your week. The good news is that this will make you a more durable, less injury-prone runner.
All the gear
Choosing the right running shoes for the trails is essential. Wearing a road running shoe on wet trails means you risk injury. Trail running shoes have bigger lugs that will better grip slippery or muddy surfaces. They also have features like a rock plate and toe guard to protect your feet from stones.
When you’re training off-road, always let someone know where you are going. Take a mobile phone. If you’re tackling unfamiliar countryside routes, plan your route and take a map. Bring a drink and gels, even if you don’t think you’ll need them, as a wrong turn in the countryside could add to your distance.
race day kit
Check with your race organizer if there is a mandatory kit list for the race you’re doing. Some longer trail races will ask you to carry items such as a foil blanket and a mobile phone with you, and may not let you race if you don’t carry them.